the kriegsmann files
this collection comes from a heap of discarded photographs, found in a venice alleyway by my friend, mike lee. i was on vacation in cape cod when he called, asking if he should rescue them. he thought i'd be the only person he knows that'd be interested in them. other neighbors had looked through and passed, but mike's descriptions of the early 70s rock bands and buggy eyed entertainers unleashed an anxiousness in me,. i told him to save as many of the photos as he could.

i had no idea how large the collection would be, until i looked into the back seat of mike's 1963 citroen, where he'd piled stacks, that we then moved armloads of. it took us about three 5 hour sittings just to look through what was there.

the best of the collection now sits smelling musty and shedding all over my desk. most of the photos are in scribbled on manilla envelopes that look like they were printed in world war 1. the account numbers, job names, and retouching comments are often written in grease pencil. there are 8x10 negatives with band logos taped on, and as a result, the photos have become sticky and unwieldy. the whole thing is a bit of a mess.

as we looked through image after image, we wondered who had been the person behind this meticulously kept body of work that had now been thrown out? had somebody died? was somebody needing to free up some space? was this collection someone's burden? was it one photographer's work we were looking at?

most of the photos in the collection are marked by a signature stamp in the lower corner, saying "james j. kriegsmann." google immediately yielded the basics... as it turns out, james j. kriegsmann is one of the most famous publicity
photographers of the 20th century. his images of frank sinatra and louis armstrong are iconic. he was known for being particularly good with touching up photos to make people look great -- especially black musicians who had never before been so artfully lit. in this collection, you can see his markings for retouching, which were often there to make men's suits look less frumpy, make women look thinner, and sometimes, just to simplify an image for the sake of greater visual clarity. it doesn't take long to see the depth of kriegsmann's artistry in this collection, which seems particularly clear in this collection, thanks to the absence of fame and historic "importance" of his subjects.

kriegsmann got his start as the cotton club's first "house photographer," and from there, went on to build one of the greatest headshot empires of the 20th century. the other great headshot pioneer of the century, maurice seymour, is also represented in this collection. seymour was best known for his elegant photographs of ballet dancers, which he successfully published. however, he made his real money shooting portraits of entertainers, mostly strippers, in his studio.

although both photographers took some of the 20th century's most iconoic entertainment photos, this discarded collection represents the dregs of their careers winding down into the twilight hours.

i have posted this collection with the hopes of gathering more information about kriegsmann, the people in these photos, and PARTICULARLY their music. i have a theory as to who threw these photos out and will possibly investigate that further. already, a few people have posted information about these photos. please contribute if you can!


Listen to the NPR story about this collection here:
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